Volunteer mission trip benefits both students and patientsGeorge Noesen grew up watching his dad practice dentistry, but it wasn’t until a recent trip to Guatemala that he got a chance to practice it for himself.
By: Regan Carstensen, The Republican Eagle
George Noesen grew up watching his dad practice dentistry, but it wasn’t until a recent trip to Guatemala that he got a chance to practice it for himself.
The 21-year-old was initially pre-med when he began classes at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., but later decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and switched to pre-dental. The Red Wing native is now nearing the end of his junior year at St. John’s.
Being an undergraduate, Noesen isn’t qualified to do any procedures in the United States so traveling to Guatemala gave him the perfect opportunity to practice some of the things he’s learned.
“Once I heard you get hands-on experience, that was the ticket,” Noesen said.
He turned in an application to join the program and went through a standard interview process. Twenty students — 16 medical and four dental — were selected.
“And I was lucky enough to be one of them,” Noesen said.
The group set out the first weekend in March and, after a day of down time and adjusting to the area, got started with clinicals in Guatemala City. Students worked from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day cleaning teeth, doing extractions and performing simple procedures in several locations throughout the week.
“We started in main cities and then would move to smaller villages,” Noesen explained.
Not being able to speak Spanish, Noesen said he encountered some trouble communicating with his patients. However, a brief class at orientation helped him memorize a few common dentistry-related phrases so he could interact as much as possible.
What started as seeing about 25 patients a day was rapidly increased by the end of the trip to about double that number.
“We were flying pretty quick. It was a lot of fun,” Noesen said. “Being there for them and putting smiles on their faces was one of the best feelings ever.”
While it would seem the patients would be the ones to benefit from the experience, Noesen said he took a lot away from the visit to Guatemala as well.
Not only did he further his knowledge of dental practices, but he also realized the privileges of being able to have an education — something many Guatemalans don’t get much of.
“We take advantage of what we have — how fortunate and how lucky we are to have our lives back in the United States,” he said.
For the future, Noesen hopes to follow in his dad’s footsteps yet again by attending dental school at the University of Minnesota. He’s even considering taking over the family business in Red Wing.
“If my dad’s willing to hand over his practice to me I’ll take it,” Noesen said. “But he says you’ve got to work for it.”
Noesen still has several years of schooling ahead of him, and said he is planning to once again join the program again next year when students travel to Costa Rica.
“I definitely put my name down,” he said.